Kids are naturally picky eaters, which can leave even the best of them in a nutrition deficient state.
The fact that fast foods, pre-packaged and processed foods aren’t exactly providing the ideal nutrition explains why most children suffer from diminished immunity.
Recent research shows that probiotics can help with digestion, absorption of nutrients, boosting immune system, and more in your kids.
There are number of reasons why you should give probiotics to your kids, but the most important is to help ensure their optimal growth and development, both physically and mentally.
What is a Probiotic?
The human body is host to more than 40 trillion microbes from various species. Out of these, certain friendly bacteria and yeast strains (called probiotics) are the more dominant in healthy individuals.
Your kid has a unique microbiome, just like their fingerprints, which develops as per their dietary habits, lifestyle, and environmental factors.
World Health Organization defines probiotics as live microorganisms that confer various health benefits on the host when administered in adequate amounts.
There are a number of harmful microbes present in the body as well who are kept at bay by the probiotics.
Without adequate levels of probiotics in the system, your child can suffer from recurring infections, loss of appetite, poor digestion, and be at a higher risk for autoimmune conditions like Crohn’s disease or type-1 diabetes.
The Probiotic Benefits
In children particularly, probiotics have a number of well-researched and proven benefits.
Eighty percent of your kid’s immune cells reside in the gut. Hence, keeping the gut healthy is obviously a precursor to boosting immune health.
A sub-optimal gut flora can cause an ill-functioning immune system. Your kid’s immune health is not going to be optimal if the gut bacteria are not optimal.
That means your child will be more prone to catching colds, picking up bugs at school or day care, with a multitude of other illnesses. You can ward of most of these infections with the help of a well-designed probiotic supplement.
Without the proper balance of gut bacteria, your child may suffer from frequent bouts of diarrhea, constipation, gas, inflammation of the gut, ulcers, and other digestive health issues. They may also develop serious conditions like food intolerance, Irritable Bowel Diseases, or ulcerative colitis.
A study found that transplanting fecal matter from a healthy adult containing a thriving microbiome could cure 93% cases of C. difficile infection. This study supports the idea that a healthy microbiome balance teeming with probiotics can treat and prevent digestive issues.
Enhance Mental Health
This is particularly relevant if you have a teenager on your hands with mood swings and borderline symptoms of stress, anxiety and depression.
More than 90% of the body’s happy hormones, serotonin and dopamine are manufactured in the gut.
These are controlled by the bacteria in the gut. A healthy microbiome balance with diverse probiotics ensures that adequate amounts of serotonin and dopamine are released at the right time, like while eating high fiber foods or exercising.
Otherwise, your child is more likely to feel good only when eating sugary comfort foods which help feed the bad bacteria.
A study found that certain probiotic species reduce anxiety and depression by lowering cortisol and restoring serotonin levels. They also work better than conventional drugs at reducing stress-induced anxiety, depression, and cognitive dysfunction.
Probiotics may also be helpful if your child is suffering from self-esteem issues and does not seem to be confident around their peers.
An animal study conducted on mice found that different gut bacteria can actually change a mouse from timid to bold and vice versa.
Obesity is major cause for concern in the country with expert reports suggesting more than 75% children suffering from being overweight.
Apart from affecting a child’s physical ability to stay fit and healthy, being overweight also takes its toll on their mental health and self-confidence.
A probiotic study on mice with TLR5 deficiency (a protein that keeps gut flora balanced) found them to suffer from excessive weight gain, insulin resistance, diabetes, and fatty liver disease.
However, interesting observations arose when the researchers transplanted some fecal matter from the overweight mice to skinny mice.
They found the skinny mice to start hogging on food which led to the conclusion that gut bacteria have a major role in food cravings. Probiotic supplements can help keep your child’s weight balanced while keeping their digestion active so that their bodies absorb maximum nutrients from food.
Alternatively, probiotics are also helpful if your child is suffering from malnutrition or is underweight even after you ensure a complete and balanced diet.
Poor absorption of nutrients or parasites in the intestines is the primary reason for children losing weight (apart from illness). Probiotics can help in both accounts by improving nutrient absorption and making the gut environment inhospitable for parasites by releasing lactic acid.
Prevents Skin Issues
Probiotics may be the best solution if your child is prone to skin breakouts like acne, eczema, or rosacea. Most parents don’t realize that acne and eczema are autoimmune conditions where the body is battling with chronic inflammation.
Probiotics have been proven to bring inflammation under control and to prevent the immune system from targeting body’s cells. A study found that skin becomes less efficient as a protective organ and more susceptible to inflammation and infection due to suboptimal gut flora.
Probiotic strains such as L. rhamnosus, L. paracasei, and B. longum have been found to be especially helpful in children suffering from eczema, acne, rosacea and other skin issues.
Science Backing Probiotics for Kids
Children develop their microbiome while in the mother’s womb and throughout early childhood. An unhealthy microbiome is thought to be responsible for a number of diseases, including increased risk of type-1 diabetes.
While more research is required to understand the complete benefits of probiotics, mounting evidence indicates these beneficial bacteria to play a crucial role in keeping the microbiome healthy and supporting numerous other body functions.
A review published in American Family Physician stated that probiotics may be useful as a natural therapy in treating inflammatory bowel disease. They may also reduce the occurrence of diarrhea caused by antibiotics and gastroenteritis.
The review also found that development of eczema and allergies in infants could be dramatically reduced by supplementing probiotics to pregnant and breast-feeding mothers.
Another 2015 research review concluded that probiotics were helpful in reducing the incidence and duration of upper respiratory tract infections as compared to placebos.
The study participants involved a number of children who were found to have reduced antibiotic use and school absence after taking the probiotics.
Probiotics have been found to be safe for infants as well and particularly helpful as per a study published in JAMA pediatrics. Infants who were given probiotics in the first three months of life suffered from less frequent bouts of colic and acid reflux.
While the evidence suggests probiotics to be helpful for children, it is important to note that the health benefits are strain specific. It is possible for one strain that helps one condition to be irrevocably useless against another.
Probiotic Supplements vs. Foods
Kid-friendly probioticstrains are added to a number of foods like cultured cottage cheese and yogurt. If your child is lactose intolerant, you may consider giving them home-brewed kombucha tea or sauerkraut.
Other dietary sources of probiotics include kefir milk, kefir juice, probiotic smoothies, pickled vegetables (in brine), and raw cheese made from unpasteurized milk.
While nutrients are best taken in the natural form, most kids cannot stomach the flavor of fermented foods, especially if they are picky eaters.
It can also be difficult to maintain control over individual probiotic strains through naturally fermented foods.
Probiotic supplements can come in useful in such situations. Your child will be in a better position to acquire all the beneficial probiotic strains through supplements. Pick a supplement that is designed specifically for children and addresses their unique needs.
At the same time you should consider adding many different fermented, probiotic rich foods to your kid’s diet. Make sure you always check yogurt and other store bought food labels for ‘live and active culture’. Most probiotic strains cannot withstand harsh manufacturing and storage processes.
Are Probiotics Safe?
Probiotic supplements include those strains of beneficial bacteria that should naturally be present in a healthy microbiome. Hence, significant side effects are out of the question.
However, it is possible for your child to experience mild abdominal discomfort, diarrhea, constipation, and flatulence in the first few days, if they have a particularly unhealthy gut.
Probiotics are slow acting and begin by colonizing the gut first. However, in some children they may be fast acting and cause trillions of harmful microbes to perish in the first few days. These microbes upon dying release toxic gases which results in adverse effects through the Herxheimer reaction.
There are some situations in which probiotics should not be given since they are essentially live microorganisms.
Children with compromised immune systems may experience side effects, like infections. Always check with your kid’s pediatrician before altering their diet or adding new supplements.